“I think she’s on the verge”
Jessica Grover (Crystal Sync) is teetering on the edge of an abyss. For a start, her husband Paul (Jeffrey Hurst) seems far more interested in her money than he does in her, which is not to suggest he’s without libidinous desires, but his elaborately-attired secretary Anne (Marlene Willoughby) is clearly the preferred outlet for those. Worse still, as he indulges his adulterous desires, she finds herself at the mercy ofa lust-engorged, armed intruder (Carter Stevens). Although a handily-placed pair of scissors prevents him from realising his murderous goal, she’s left a nervous wreck.
With attempts to ‘soldier on’ proving predictably inadequate, Jess rents a remote beach house in order to rebuild her shattered psyche. The combination of the sea-breeze and ‘cocktails in the afternoon’ seems to agree with her, but the respite is only temporary. Her relationship with Paul, which had seemed quite solid in the immediate aftermath of the attack, continues to be a source of concern. He does make the concession of sharing her bed, though even this – unbeknownst to her – is at Anne’s prompting. Under the circumstances, the conspiratorial couple being called back to the city on business appears to be a rare instance of good fortune. Jess is left in the care of new neighbour, Pinky (Jennifer Jordan), and attendant stud, Matt (Robert Kerman), but the ordeal continues to haunt her. She finds a pair of scissors in her bed and is convinced that Paul or Anne is trying to drive her mad. Matt and Pinky – particularly the former – are on hand to offer to support but the situation remains perilous.
The Tiffany Minx takes time to gather momentum but develops into a genuinely engrossing thriller. The presence of an experienced director is obviously significant but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a deliciously serpentine narrative. The motivation of the major players is never quite what it seems, and the film‘s resolution remains in the balance as loyalties waver and alliances shatter. During the final act, tensions escalate further as the established themes of greed and betrayal are supplemented with cold-blooded murder and the chill of psychosis. Digging a little deeper, it’s worth noting that, while the central characters range from sympathetic to demented (and incorporate numerous shades of grey in-between), the men are a uniformly loathsome bunch – at best, happy to live off one woman while perusing another. Whether this is indicative of a heartfelt feminist ideology or simply a dramatic conceit is open to debate, but it is in alignment with other Findlay movies and thus unlikely to be coincidental. It’s also worth noting that Jessica, who by the end of the movie has seen off two potential murderers, is not the hapless victim she at times appears.
Leaving the screenplay to one side, Findlay does a great job as a director, managing to negotiate one twist after another without the film ever feeling forced or collapsing into implausibility. She also orchestrates the sex scenes unusually well, adding depth and emphasising relationships by cutting between the fleshy encounters and the activities of the excluded.
Although it’s clearly one of the best thrillers in the x-rated canon, The Tiffany Minx is not without a couple of missteps. Firstly, the scene that introduces us to Matt is overlong and feels like padding. Up to a point, the same could be said about our introduction to Ben (Jessica’s assailant), but by opens the film with the abuse of a naked and prostrate female, it does serve to establish a tone of amorality from the outset. On the subject of Ben – played by gargantuan director Carter Stevens – it’s also worth noting that those looking for titillation or eye-candy are likely to be very disappointed. The sex showcased herein is entirely lacking in the contortions we witness today – and this relative realism extends to the physicality of the cast. I genuinely didn’t expect the aforementioned Mr Stevens to engage in explicit action and, frankly, would rather he hadn’t. None of the major players are ever going to be mistaken for sex symbols, which isn’t a problem from a dramatic point of view but will be contrary to the expectations of some viewers.
With regards to the cast, the curiously-monikered ‘Crystal Sync’ may look more like Shelly Duvall than Marilyn Chambers but she carries considerable weight as the damsel in distress. More visually arresting is Marlene Willoughby, a slender brunette who featured in numerous New York productions and was a particular favourite of Sean Costello. The incredibly hirsute Jeffrey Hurst makes for a pretty persuasive Machiavellian antagonist, while Jennifer Jordan – who had previously worked with Findlay on Anyone But My Husband and A Woman’s Torment – is characteristically likeable as ‘Pinky’ (‘I don’t tan well’). Nevertheless, the most memorable performances are undoubtedly those of Sync and Robert Kerman. It’s a shame that contemporary interviews reveal the portly Mr Kerman – or R. Bolla, as he’s commonly credited – to be quite a bitter character, because he was one of the best actors working during the halcyon years of adult cinema. In addition to appearances in classics like Amanda By Night and Odyssey (not to mention light-hearted blockbusters like Debbie Does Dallas), he’s widely known for starring in the scandalous Italian horror movies, Cannibal Holocaust and Eaten Alive. Leaving dismemberment and flesh-eating to one side, he’s on top form here – oscillating between an improbable swagger (Kerman really doesn’t look like a ‘stud’ probably should) and a tangible menace.
The Tiffany Minx is rarely mentioned when people discuss the best films of the Golden Age and, to a point, I can understand why. It doesn’t have the philosophical intent of Damiano’s best films or the production values of, say, Chuck Vincent’s. With the exception of Samantha Fox’s cameo, it doesn’t even have any big-name stars.That said, as a thriller it’s as good as anything the genre has to offer. It’s also an excellent example of what was once a widely-held ideal: a sincere narrative movie that happens to contain hardcore sex.